2590.) Acts 28

April 5, 2019

Beautiful Malta!

Acts 28 (NLT)

Paul on the Island of Malta

1 Once we were safe on shore, we learned that we were on the island of Malta.  (The word Malta means “refuge.”) 2 The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us.

February 10 is a holiday in Malta, celebrating the Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck to their island. The bay where Paul supposedly landed is called St. Paul’s Bay, the main cathedral, in Mdina, is dedicated to him, and the patron saint of the island is, of course — him!

3 As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. 4 The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.” 5 But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. 6 The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw that he wasn’t harmed, they changed their minds and decided he was a god.

God didn’t preserve Paul from the storm just to let him perish by a snake. Paul was protected. It was promised he would go to Rome (you must also bear witness at Rome, Acts 23:11), and Paul wasn’t to Rome yet. It wasn’t so much that nothing would stop Paul as it was that nothing would stop God’s promise from being fulfilled

–David Guzik

7 Near the shore where we landed was an estate belonging to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us and treated us kindly for three days. 8 As it happened, Publius’s father was ill with fever and dysentery. Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him. 9 Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed. 10 As a result we were showered with honors, and when the time came to sail, people supplied us with everything we would need for the trip.

Paul Arrives at Rome

11 It was three months after the shipwreck that we set sail on another ship that had wintered at the island—an Alexandrian ship with the twin gods as its figurehead. 12 Our first stop was Syracuse, where we stayed three days.

Ancient Greek and Roman ruins are easily found today in the area of ancient Syracuse on the island of Sicily.

13 From there we sailed across to Rhegium. A day later a south wind began blowing, so the following day we sailed up the coast to Puteoli. 14 There we found some believers, who invited us to spend a week with them.

Just outside of Naples and not far from Mt. Vesuvius is the town of Pozzuoli, ancient Puteoli. It is the hometown of Sophia Loren and the birthplace of my youngest child, Devlin.

And so we came to Rome.

15 The brothers and sisters in Rome had heard we were coming, and they came to meet us at the Forum on the Appian Way. Others joined us at The Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God.

16 When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier.

Paul was chained to a Roman guard who was likely on a four-hour shift. At first, one thinks to feel sorry for Paul. But on further consideration, one may pity the guards, who for hours at a time could not escape Paul’s preaching, teaching, and praying! Paul is the one who has a captive audience! And the Lord blessed:

Philippians 1:12-14 (NLT)  (written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome)

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.  For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.  And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

Paul Preaches at Rome under Guard

17 Three days after Paul’s arrival, he called together the local Jewish leaders.

This was Paul’s usual practice, to meet the Jewish leaders first in every city he entered.

He said to them, “Brothers, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Roman government, even though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors. 18 The Romans tried me and wanted to release me, because they found no cause for the death sentence. 19 But when the Jewish leaders protested the decision, I felt it necessary to appeal to Caesar, even though I had no desire to press charges against my own people. 20 I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and so I could explain to you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel—the Messiah—has already come.”

21 They replied, “We have had no letters from Judea or reports against you from anyone who has come here. 22 But we want to hear what you believe, for the only thing we know about this movement is that it is denounced everywhere.”

23 So a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening.

Don’t we wish we could have heard this?! Paul, explaining how the Old Testament shows that Jesus is sent from God for the salvation of all humankind! Just as Christ had done before while traveling to Emmaus:

Luke 24:27 (ESV)

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

24 Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe. 25 And after they had argued back and forth among themselves, they left with this final word from Paul: “The Holy Spirit was right when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet,

26 ‘Go and say to this people:
When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
27 For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’

28 So I want you to know that this salvation from God has also been offered to the Gentiles, and they will accept it.”

In just a few years after Paul’s rebuke of those Jews who rejected Jesus, the Jewish people of Judea were slaughtered wholesale and Jerusalem was destroyed. 

30 For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, 31 boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.

Paul’s chains did not matter. The Word of God was proclaimed without hindrance!

The End of the Book of Acts

What actually happened to Paul? The book of Acts does not say. The pastoral letters, however, suggest that he was freed after a first trial (2 Timothy 4:16). Possibly, then, he went to Spain (Romans 15:24), and to Asia Minor (Titus 3:12), Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3), and Crete (Titus 1:5).

Once back in Rome, Paul was brought to trial a second time and convicted (2 Timothy 4:6, 16). Finally, outside Rome, around AD 67, he was beheaded.

Why did Luke leave Acts unfinished? Some scholars believe the book ends here because Luke wrote it as a “friend of the court” brief for Paul’s trial in Rome. But does this book end at all? Do not the “Acts of the Believers, and of the Holy Spirit” continue even now? We are writing our own chapters of Acts in the daily events of our lives!

St. Paul in Prison, by Rembrandt, 1627 (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart)

from This Day with the Master,
by Dennis F. Kinlaw

SHACKLED IN ROME

I love the ending of the book of Acts, which is the final story of the apostle Paul in the early church. Paul was a courageous spokesman for the gospel of Christ. He had given his life for the message, and at the end of his life he found himself under house arrest in Rome. In spite of the fact that he had to live shackled to a Roman soldier, he spent his time teaching people about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.

If you had lived in Rome in those days, where would you have thought the future was? The typical person would have looked to Nero’s palace for the power and the future, believing that the significant figure was the emperor ruling from his throne. The reality is that today, two thousand years later, we name our dogs Nero and our sons Paul. The world’s ways are never the ways of God, and the world’s people are never the people of God. The one who cast a long shadow over the next two thousand years was one who was tucked away in a simple house and shackled to a Roman soldier, not the one who sat on the throne, dictating to people how they should please him.

Do you feel your life is being wasted? Are you in some sort of captivity? If so, take heart. I am sure that Paul felt exactly the same way. Instead of taking the gospel to Spain, he was chained to a guard in Rome, influencing only those who came to visit him. But God’s ways are not our ways, and God used Paul in the place of his captivity, with all its limitations, to change all of human history.

_________________________

Music:

How do you close the book of Acts?!  HERE  is a Taize song which I think makes a good connection between then and now.

“The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit;
Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.”

_________________________

Well, what did you think of ACTS as you read it this time? What seemed new to you? What spoke to your heart / mind? Please share your impressions with the rest of us! Reply by leaving a comment below! Many thanks!

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Malta.    https://inspirationseek.com/valletta-malta-beautiful-city-with-baroque-architecture/
Feast of St. Paul Shipwreck parade.    https://traditioninaction.org/religious/images_F-J/H135_Festa.jpg
ancient ruins near Syracuse, Sicily.    https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/siracusa-roman-ruins.jpg
Pozzuoli.   https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/pozzuoli1.jpg
Paul chained to a guard in Rome.  https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/paul-and-guard.jpg
Road to Emmaus.    http://adventus.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/road_to_emmaus1.jpg
Rembrandt.     http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/complete_catalogue/storia_b/paul_prison.htm
Advertisements

2589.) Acts 27:27-44

April 4, 2019

St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church in Malta. The present structure of the Church was started in 1950 and completed in 1956. However there has been a church on this site for some considerable time. According to tradition the site of the church is where a fire was lit to warm the survivors of a shipwreck, including Paul, in AD 60.

Acts 27:27-44   (NLT)

The Shipwreck

27 About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm, as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near. 28 They dropped a weighted line and found that the water was 120 feet deep. But a little later they measured again and found it was only 90 feet deep. 29 At this rate they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight.

 They spent two entire weeks in the misery and terror of the storm!

30 Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the front of the ship. 31 But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, “You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat and let it drift away.

Paul knew two reasons why they had to stay together. First, the ship’s passengers desperately needed the crew’s expertise, and it would be fatal if the crew abandoned the passengers. Second, Paul probably sensed that God’s promise to give him the lives of the whole ship’s company assumed that they would stay together.

–David Guzik

33 Just as day was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. 34 “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” 35 Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. 36 Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat—37 all 276 of us who were on board. 38 After eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard.

Their last great desperation and their last hope of profit, now that the grain is at the bottom of the sea.

39 When morning dawned, they didn’t recognize the coastline, but they saw a bay with a beach and wondered if they could get to shore by running the ship aground. 40 So they cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Then they lowered the rudders, raised the foresail, and headed toward shore. 41 But they hit a shoal and ran the ship aground too soon. The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart.

42 The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn’t swim ashore and escape. 43 But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn’t let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land. 44 The others held onto planks or debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely to shore.

To the soldiers, it made sense to kill the prisoners, because according to Roman military law a guard who allowed his prisoner to escape was subject to the same penalty the escaped prisoner would have suffered – in the case of most of these prisoners, death.

But God gave Paul favor in the eyes of this Roman centurion, and that favor kept Paul and all the prisoners alive – in fulfillment of the word spoken to Paul, God has granted you all those who sail with you (Acts 27:24). God’s word never fails.

–David Guzik

_________________________

Music:

Hmmm, a song for a shipwreck . . . I doubt if you want “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic. How about Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald”?  Much better!  HERE.  I love the old newscast footage included!

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.

With a load of iron ore – 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they’d been feeling.

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T’was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it’s too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it’s been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.

They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the ruins of her ice water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral
The church bell chimed, ’til it rang 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church.    https://judycoster.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/img_3288.jpg
reaching land.   https://apetcher.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/saint-paul-shipwreck.jpg

2588.) Acts 27:1-26

April 3, 2019

Acts 27 (NLT)

Paul Sails for Rome

Click on this map for a larger, clearer image of the route to Rome.

1 When the time came, we set sail for Italy. Paul and several other prisoners were placed in the custody of a Roman officer named Julius, a captain of the Imperial Regiment. 2 Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was also with us. We left on a ship whose home port was Adramyttium on the northwest coast of the province of Asia; it was scheduled to make several stops at ports along the coast of the province.

It was common for Roman soldiers to accompany the transport of criminals, those awaiting trial, and merchant ships filled with grain going from Egypt to Rome.

3 The next day when we docked at Sidon, Julius was very kind to Paul and let him go ashore to visit with friends so they could provide for his needs.

It is likely that Paul was different from the other prisoners.  He was an uncondemned man, on his way to see Caesar.  The others were probably condemned to death, perhaps on their way to the Roman arena.

4 Putting out to sea from there, we encountered strong headwinds that made it difficult to keep the ship on course, so we sailed north of Cyprus between the island and the mainland. 5 Keeping to the open sea, we passed along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, landing at Myra, in the province of Lycia. 6 There the commanding officer found an Egyptian ship from Alexandria that was bound for Italy, and he put us on board.

7 We had several days of slow sailing, and after great difficulty we finally neared Cnidus. But the wind was against us, so we sailed across to Crete and along the sheltered coast of the island, past the cape of Salmone. 8 We struggled along the coast with great difficulty and finally arrived at Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. 9 We had lost a lot of time. The weather was becoming dangerous for sea travel because it was so late in the fall, and Paul spoke to the ship’s officers about it.

Mid-September through mid-November was considered dangerous for sailing; after mid-November, all sailing stopped until spring.  In his various journeys, Paul had spent considerable time at sea, so he could speak to the ship’s officers as a quite experienced traveler. Pictured above is an idea of an ancient Roman freight ship.

10 “Men,” he said, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.” 11 But the officer in charge of the prisoners listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul. 12 And since Fair Havens was an exposed harbor—a poor place to spend the winter—most of the crew wanted to go on to Phoenix, farther up the coast of Crete, and spend the winter there. Phoenix was a good harbor with only a southwest and northwest exposure.

The Storm at Sea

13 When a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it. So they pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete. 14 But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea. 15 The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale.

16 We sailed along the sheltered side of a small island named Cauda, where with great difficulty we hoisted aboard the lifeboat being towed behind us. 17 Then the sailors bound ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it. They were afraid of being driven across to the sandbars of Syrtis off the African coast, so they lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship and were driven before the wind.

18 The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard. 19 The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard. 20 The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.

No sun, no stars — their only tools for navigation gone. No wonder they felt all hope was lost.

21 No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. 22 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.”

Such encouragement for the others on board!

Paul believed God when there was nothing else to believe. He couldn’t believe the sailors, the ship, the sails, the wind, the centurion, human ingenuity or anything else – only God and God alone. This was not a fair-weather faith; he believed God in the midst of the storm, when circumstances were at their worst. Paul would say along with Job: Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15). His terrible situation was real, but God was more real to Paul than the dreadful circumstances.

—David Guzik

_________________________

Music:

HERE  is a creedal song, “Because We Believe.”

__________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Acts 27:25.   https://i.pinimg.com/originals/55/61/1f/55611f5cb0fda1fb7e10bc9b3fcc25ad.jpg
map to Rome.   https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/shipwreck_map.jpg
sailing in the Mediterranean.   https://i.pinimg.com/736x/fe/89/30/fe8930d73f0c7a3ec9531a1abb74391f.jpg
I believe God.   http://elmwoodbaptist.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2014-I-Believe-God.jpg

2587.) Acts 26

April 2, 2019

“Paul on Trial before Agrippa” by Nikolai Bodarevsky (1875). Notice that Bernice also is on a throne.

Acts 26 (NLT)

1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You may speak in your defense.”

So Paul, gesturing with his hand, started his defense: 2 “I am fortunate, King Agrippa, that you are the one hearing my defense today against all these accusations made by the Jewish leaders, 3 for I know you are an expert on all Jewish customs and controversies. Now please listen to me patiently!

Paul stands before Herod Agrippa II, whose great-grandfather had tried to kill Jesus as a baby; his grandfather had John the Baptist beheaded; his father had martyred the first apostle, James.  Paul is being quite generous in his evaluation of Agrippa’s open-mindedness towards people who followed Jesus!

On another note, Herod Agrippa II gave extensive information to Josephus which then made its way into his history, Antiquities of the Jews.

4 “As the Jewish leaders are well aware, I was given a thorough Jewish training from my earliest childhood among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5 If they would admit it, they know that I have been a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of our religion. 6 Now I am on trial because of my hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to our ancestors. 7 In fact, that is why the twelve tribes of Israel zealously worship God night and day, and they share the same hope I have. Yet, Your Majesty, they accuse me for having this hope! 8 Why does it seem incredible to any of you that God can raise the dead?

9 “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death.

“I cast my vote against them” clearly implies that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, having a vote against Christians who were tried before the Sanhedrin (like Stephen in Acts 7).

If Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, it also means that at that time he was married, because it was required for all members of the Sanhedrin. Since as a Christian, he was single (1 Corinthians 7:7-9), it may mean that Paul’s wife either died or deserted him when he became a Christian.

—David Guzik

11 Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.

12 “One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests.

Michelangelo’s “Conversion of St. Paul”

Here is the third account in Acts of Paul’s conversion
(see also chapters 9 and 22).

13 About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. 14 We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’

15 “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.

“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. 16 Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. 17 And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles 18 to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’

19 “And so, King Agrippa, I obeyed that vision from heaven.

“When the Lord reveals His will to us and we obey, our mission will be a success regardless of the results.”
– Chinese house church leaders, Back to Jerusalem movement

20 I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do. 21 Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me. 22 But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen—23 that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike.”

These are the three main themes of Paul’s preaching:  Jesus’ death, Jesus’ resurrection, and the spreading of the gospel to the whole world.

24 Suddenly, Festus shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!”

25 But Paul replied, “I am not insane, Most Excellent Festus. What I am saying is the sober truth. 26 And King Agrippa knows about these things. I speak boldly, for I am sure these events are all familiar to him, for they were not done in a corner! 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do—”

28 Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”

29 Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.”

Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage;

If I have freedom in my love,

And in my soul am free,

Angels alone that soar above

Enjoy such liberty.

–Richard Lovelace, English poet  (1618 – 1657)

30 Then the king, the governor, Bernice,

Bernice was Agrippa’s sister.  They lived together “in too great familiarity,” as one Bible commentator has said . . .

and all the others stood and left. 31 As they went out, they talked it over and agreed, “This man hasn’t done anything to deserve death or imprisonment.”

32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “He could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.”

from Peculiar Treasures,
by Frederick Buechner

AGRIPPA

There’s something a little sad about seeing anybody for the last time, even somebody you were never particularly crazy about to begin with. Agrippa, for instance. He was the last of the Herods, and after him that rather unsavory dynasty came to an end.

When Saint Paul was on his way to Rome to stand trial, King Agrippa granted him a preliminary hearing, and Paul, who was seldom at a loss for words, put up a strong defense. He described how on the road to Damascus he had come to believe Jesus was the Messiah and how all he had been doing since then was trying to persuade other people to believe he was right. He said the fact the Jews were out to get him showed only that they didn’t  understand their own scriptures because the whole thing was right there including the prediction that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead just the way Jesus had.

After he finished, Agrippa came out with the only remark he ever made that has gone down in history. “Almost thou persuadest me to become a Christian,” he said (Acts 26:28).

Almost is apt to be a sad word under the best of circumstances, and here, on the lips of the last of his line the last time you see him, it has a special poignance. If only Paul had been a little more eloquent. If only Agrippa had been a little more receptive, a little braver, a little crazier. If only God weren’t such a stickler for letting people make up their own minds without coercing them. But things are what they are, and almost is the closest Agrippa ever got to what might have changed his life. It’s sad enough to miss the boat at all, but to miss it by inches, with a saint right there to hand you aboard, is sadder still.

_________________________

Music:

The old hymn, “Almost Persuaded,” is one I remember very clearly from my childhood, as the Lutheran country church my family was a part of had revival meetings every year with Lutheran evangelists coming to preach. They were wonderful meetings, full of people who loved the Lord and had a heart that all should have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. This hymn addressed the urgency of salvation! It was written in 1871 by the American composer and evangelist Philip P. Bliss, who also wrote the hymns “Hallelujah!  What a Savior!”  and “Wonderful Words of Life” — as well as the tune for Horatio Spafford’s hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.”   HERE  it is sung by Josh Turner.

  1. “Almost persuaded” now to believe;
    “Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
    Seems now some soul to say,
    “Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
    Some more convenient day
    On Thee I’ll call.”
  2. “Almost persuaded,” come, come today;
    “Almost persuaded,” turn not away;
    Jesus invites you here,
    Angels are ling’ring near,
    Prayers rise from hearts so dear;
    O wand’rer, come!
  3. “Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
    “Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last!
    “Almost” cannot avail;
    “Almost” is but to fail!
    Sad, sad, that bitter wail—
    “Almost,” but lost!

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Bodarevsky.     http://www.tickledpinklife.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Boldness.jpg
Michelangelo.    http://www.mystudios.com/art/italian/michelangelo/michelangelo-st-paul.jpg
bright vision from heaven.    http://galerie-appassionata.com/bulkupload_Cloud-Wallpaper_Visions-of-Heaven.jpg
bird in cage.   http://diysolarpanelsv.com/images/pet-bird-clipart-4.jpg
man missed the boat.   https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-bb586ebf4aec5d1669f80fa7949d5880-c

2586.) Acts 25

April 1, 2019

Paul knows he is not guilty. The judges see he is not guilty. Then why doesn’t he go free?

Acts 25 (NLT)

Paul Appears before Festus

1 Three days after Festus arrived in Caesarea to take over his new responsibilities, he left for Jerusalem, 2 where the leading priests and other Jewish leaders met with him and made their accusations against Paul. 3 They asked Festus as a favor to transfer Paul to Jerusalem (planning to ambush and kill him on the way).

These were religious men, religious leaders. Their actions show the danger of religion that is not in true contact with God. If your religion makes you a liar and a murderer, there is something wrong with your religion.

–David Guzik

“We see a growth of corruption. In Acts 23, where the plot to murder Paul was first launched, we find that it was the zealots who were responsible. Now, in Acts 25, we find that the leaders are initiating the very thing they were only tangentially involved in earlier.”

–James Montgomery Boice

4 But Festus replied that Paul was at Caesarea and he himself would be returning there soon. 5 So he said, “Those of you in authority can return with me. If Paul has done anything wrong, you can make your accusations.”

Try this perspective on Paul’s imprisonment:   These past two years were a sabbatical, of sorts, for Paul, after his years of exhausting missionary journeys. He was also safe there from the Jewish leaders and their murderous plans.

6 About eight or ten days later Festus returned to Caesarea, and on the following day he took his seat in court and ordered that Paul be brought in. 7 When Paul arrived, the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem gathered around and made many serious accusations they couldn’t prove.

8 Paul denied the charges. “I am not guilty of any crime against the Jewish laws or the Temple or the Roman government,” he said.

9 Then Festus, wanting to please the Jews, asked him, “Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there?”

10 But Paul replied, “No! This is the official Roman court, so I ought to be tried right here. You know very well I am not guilty of harming the Jews. 11 If I have done something worthy of death, I don’t refuse to die. But if I am innocent, no one has a right to turn me over to these men to kill me. I appeal to Caesar!”

Paul’s appeal made sense. He was convinced that the evidence was on his side and that he could win in a fair trial. He also had reason to wonder if his current judge (Festus) was sympathetic to his accusers, the religious leaders among the Jews.

It was the right of every Roman citizen to have his case heard by Caesar himself, after initial trials and appeals had failed to reach a satisfactory decision. This was in effect an appeal to the “supreme court” of the empire.
—David Guzik

12 Festus conferred with his advisers and then replied, “Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you will go!”

—or did Paul just want a Caesar salad?

13 A few days later King Agrippa arrived with his sister, Bernice, to pay their respects to Festus.

Let’s look at these new characters!

Herod Agrippa II ruled a client kingdom of the Roman Empire to the northeast of Festus’ province. He didn’t rule over much territory, but he was of great influence because the emperor gave him the right to oversee the affairs of the temple in Jerusalem and the appointment of the high priest. Agrippa was known as an expert in Jewish customs and religious matters. Though he did not have jurisdiction over Paul in this case, his hearing of the matter would be helpful for Festus.

Of this King Agrippa — his great-grandfather had tried to kill Jesus as a baby; his grandfather had John the Baptist beheaded; his father had martyred the first apostle, James. Now Paul stood before the next in line of the Herods, Herod Agrippa.

Bernice was Agrippa’s sister. Secular history records rumors that their relationship was incestuous.

14 During their stay of several days, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. “There is a prisoner here,” he told him, “whose case was left for me by Felix. 15 When I was in Jerusalem, the leading priests and Jewish elders pressed charges against him and asked me to condemn him. 16 I pointed out to them that Roman law does not convict people without a trial. They must be given an opportunity to confront their accusers and defend themselves.

17 “When his accusers came here for the trial, I didn’t delay. I called the case the very next day and ordered Paul brought in. 18 But the accusations made against him weren’t any of the crimes I expected. 19 Instead, it was something about their religion and a dead man named Jesus, who Paul insists is alive. 20 I was at a loss to know how to investigate these things, so I asked him whether he would be willing to stand trial on these charges in Jerusalem. 21 But Paul appealed to have his case decided by the emperor. So I ordered that he be held in custody until I could arrange to send him to Caesar.”

—or perhaps a slice of Little Caesar’s pizza?

22 “I’d like to hear the man myself,” Agrippa said.

And Festus replied, “You will—tomorrow!”

Agrippa will hold a hearing, as a favor to Festus, and not a trial; the king has no jurisdiction over Paul.

Paul Speaks to Agrippa

23 So the next day Agrippa and Bernice arrived at the auditorium with great pomp, accompanied by military officers and prominent men of the city. Festus ordered that Paul be brought in. 24 Then Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are here, this is the man whose death is demanded by all the Jews, both here and in Jerusalem. 25 But in my opinion he has done nothing deserving death. However, since he appealed his case to the emperor, I have decided to send him to Rome.

26 “But what shall I write the emperor? For there is no clear charge against him. So I have brought him before all of you, and especially you, King Agrippa, so that after we examine him, I might have something to write. 27 For it makes no sense to send a prisoner to the emperor without specifying the charges against him!”

Festus clearly understood that Paul was innocent. What wasn’t so clear to him was a reasonable charge against Paul.

_________________________

Music:

It would be easy, in the midst of long months of imprisonment and numerous death threats, for Paul to become discouraged and wonder if God had forgotten to take care of him. Frankly, I would guess that it would take much less than that to discourage most of us! But Paul had confidence in the Lord whom he had met on the road to Damascus, and he had given the Lord full freedom to own him and lead him wherever God wanted. Twila Paris’ song, “Not My Own,”  HERE,  encourages me to think more like Paul.

I am not my own
I am bought with a price
I am not my own, not my own

I am not my own
I cannot hold to pride
I am not my own, not my own

Take this false desire
Burn it in Your righteous fire
I am not my own, not my own

This is not my home
This is not Paradise
This is not my home, not my home

This is not my home
I have been far and wide
This is not my home, not my home

Make this longing true
Turn my wistful heart to you
This is not my home, not my home

When I turn to find Your eyes
O Lord, O Lord
I begin to realize
Once more, once more

I am not my own
I am bought with a price
I am not my own, not my own
Take this false desire
Burn it in Your righteous fire
I am not my own, not my own
I am not my own, not my own

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Not guilty.   https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/not_guilty.jpeg
Caron.    http://www.keyway.ca/jpg/festus.jpg
salad.   https://fthmb.tqn.com/PK-gzCMO2_chv0BfVqmzfBtou3M=/2500×1656/filters:fill(auto,1)/caesar-salad-2500-56a210635f9b58b7d0c62d64.jpg
pizza.    https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/48994-littlecaesars.jpg

2585.) Acts 24

March 29, 2019

In the Walk Thu the New Testament seminar, we remember Felix the ruler by twisting the whiskers of Felix the cat!

Acts 24 (NLT)

Paul Appears before Felix

Five days later Ananias, the high priest, arrived with some of the Jewish elders and the lawyer Tertullus, to present their case against Paul to the governor. 2 When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented the charges against Paul in the following address to the governor:

The high priest, some of the Jewish elders, and a top-notch lawyer — these folks are serious about getting Paul out of their hair!

“Your Excellency,

Felix! Born a slave, the emperor Claudius made him a freedman. Felix went on to marry the granddaughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra and became the first slave in Roman history to be appointed a provincial governor. The ancient historian Tacitus says that he ruled as “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king with the spirit of a slave.” As we read on, we will see Felix’s propensity to try to turn any situation to his personal advantage.

you have provided a long period of peace for us Jews and with foresight have enacted reforms for us. 3 For all of this we are very grateful to you. 4 But I don’t want to bore you, so please give me your attention for only a moment. 5 We have found this man to be a troublemaker who is constantly stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the cult known as the Nazarenes. 6 Furthermore, he was trying to desecrate the Temple when we arrested him. 8 You can find out the truth of our accusations by examining him yourself.” 9 Then the other Jews chimed in, declaring that everything Tertullus said was true.

Plenty of accusations. But where is the supporting evidence?

10 The governor then motioned for Paul to speak. Paul said, “I know, sir, that you have been a judge of Jewish affairs for many years, so I gladly present my defense before you. 11 You can quickly discover that I arrived in Jerusalem no more than twelve days ago to worship at the Temple. 12 My accusers never found me arguing with anyone in the Temple, nor stirring up a riot in any synagogue or on the streets of the city. 13 These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing.

14 “But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors, and I firmly believe the Jewish law and everything written in the prophets. 15 I have the same hope in God that these men have, that he will raise both the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people.

_________________________

Music:

One of my favorite hymns, because it is so full of truth and so singable. “In Christ Alone” was written in 2002 by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty.  HERE is Adrienne Liesching, Geoff Moore & The Distance.

_________________________

17 “After several years away, I returned to Jerusalem with money to aid my people and to offer sacrifices to God. 18 My accusers saw me in the Temple as I was completing a purification ceremony. There was no crowd around me and no rioting. 19 But some Jews from the province of Asia were there—and they ought to be here to bring charges if they have anything against me! 20 Ask these men here what crime the Jewish high council found me guilty of, 21 except for the one time I shouted out, ‘I am on trial before you today because I believe in the resurrection of the dead!’”

22 At that point Felix, who was quite familiar with the Way, adjourned the hearing and said, “Wait until Lysias, the garrison commander, arrives. Then I will decide the case.” 23 He ordered an officer to keep Paul in custody but to give him some freedom and allow his friends to visit him and take care of his needs.

Felix tried to walk a middle ground. He knew Paul was innocent, yet he did not want to identify himself with Paul’s gospel and the Christians. So he made no decision and kept Paul in custody.

–David Guzik

24 A few days later Felix came back with his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment, Felix became frightened. “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.” 26 He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him.

“St. John the Baptist Rebuking Herod” by Giovanni Fattori (1825-1908) Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy

This brings to mind Herod Antipas’ interest with John the Baptist. Herod “was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20). The difference is that Felix’s end motive was simple greed.

27 After two years went by in this way, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And because Felix wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people, he left Paul in prison.

Pilate condemns Jesus, from the movie “The Passion of Christ”

Felix keeps Paul in prison, even while knowing his innocence. This brings to mind Pontius Pilate, who condemned Jesus even while knowing Christ’s innocence. The leaders do what is expedient rather than what is right.

_________________________

Paul’s hometown, Tarsus, was the capital city of Cilicia. The picture above is of Cleopatra’s Gate, built in 41 BCE to welcome her to the city.

from Peculiar Treasures,
by Frederick Buechner

FELIX

Felix was the Roman governor of Cilicia. When Paul got into a knock-down drag-out with the Jerusalem Jews, Felix was the one that the Roman brass took him to in hopes of getting the matter settled once and for all. Paul’s Roman passport entitled him to a Roman hearing, and Felix gave it to him He seems to have listened sympathetically enough and to have had a fairly good understanding of both sides of the issue since on the one hand he already knew about the Christian movement and, on the other, he had a Jewish wife. Under the pretext of awaiting further evidence, he then placed Paul under custody but went out of the way to see to it that he was well taken care of. He could do what he wanted within reason, and his friends were allowed to supplement his rations from a kosher delicatessen.

The trouble came during a second interview a couple of days later. Felix had summoned him to find out how much his release was worth to him in hard cash, but with his usual tact Paul insisted on discussing justice, self-control, and future judgment instead. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” Felix said and sent him back to the pokey. He dropped in on him there from time to time to pursue his original line of inquiry, but Paul never seemed to zero in on what he was after.

With three squares a day, a roof over his head, and plenty of time to write letters, Paul had no major complaints apparently, and as long as Felix didn’t spring him, the Jews had no major complaints either. As for Felix himself, after two years he retired on a handsome government pension, leaving the problem of what to do with Paul for his successor to worry about. Felix, of course, means “the happy one” in Latin, and if happiness consists of having your cake and eating it too, he was well named.

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Felix the cat.   http://www.retrokimmer.com/2014/09/felix-cat-still-coolest-cat.html
Fattori.  http://imagecache6.allposters.com/LRG/15/1507/7M3BD00Z.jpg
Pilate and Jesus.  http://ourfaithinaction.net/wp-content/uploads/2004/02/pilate_condemns_jesus.jpg
Tarsus city gate. https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/tarsus.jpg

2584.) Acts 23:23-35

March 28, 2019

Ancient Roman aqueduct in Caesarea

Acts 23:23-35   (NLT)

Paul Is Sent to Caesarea

23 Then the commander called two of his officers and ordered, “Get 200 soldiers ready to leave for Caesarea at nine o’clock tonight. Also take 200 spearmen and 70 mounted troops. 24 Provide horses for Paul to ride, and get him safely to Governor Felix.”

Amazing! 470 trained Roman soldiers would escort Paul out of Jerusalem! It was as if God wanted to exaggerate His faithfulness to him, and show him beyond any doubt that the promise of Jesus was true. Paul would be safe in Caesarea. Located about 60 miles northwest of Jerusalem, it was the official residence of the Roman governors of Palestine.

25 Then he wrote this letter to the governor:

26 “From Claudius Lysias, to his Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings!
27 “This man was seized by some Jews, and they were about to kill him when I arrived with the troops. When I learned that he was a Roman citizen, I removed him to safety. 28 Then I took him to their high council to try to learn the basis of the accusations against him. 29 I soon discovered the charge was something regarding their religious law—certainly nothing worthy of imprisonment or death. 30 But when I was informed of a plot to kill him, I immediately sent him on to you. I have told his accusers to bring their charges before you.”

31 So that night, as ordered, the soldiers took Paul as far as Antipatris. 32 They returned to the fortress the next morning, while the mounted troops took him on to Caesarea.

“Up to Antipatris [about 25 miles] the country was dangerous and inhabited by Jews; after that the country was open and flat, quite unsuited for any ambush and largely inhabited by Gentiles.”
–William Barclay

33 When they arrived in Caesarea, they presented Paul and the letter to Governor Felix. 34 He read it and then asked Paul what province he was from. “Cilicia,” Paul answered.

35 “I will hear your case myself when your accusers arrive,” the governor told him. Then the governor ordered him kept in the prison at Herod’s headquarters.

This would be Paul’s first opportunity to speak to someone at this level of authority (the governor). This was the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise made to Paul some 20 years earlier: that he would bear the name of Jesus to kings (Acts 9:15).

And this also began a two-year period of confinement for Paul in Caesarea. After that he spent at least two years in Rome. Taken together with travel time, the next five years of Paul’s life were lived in Roman custody. This was a striking contrast to his previous years of wide and spontaneous travel.

–David Guzik

_________________________

Music:

HERE  is “God Will Take Care of You,” sung a capella by the Antrim Mennonite Choir. Even though Paul did not know this particular song, I am sure he knew the truth of the lyrics.

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
aqueduct at Caesarea.    https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/caesarea-aduct.jpg
map.   http://lakesideministries.com/2ndCovenant/Acts/Acts_Images/ActsMap_3rd_Missionary_Journey_Paul%20Imprisoned%20in%20Caesarea.htm